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LTO-3 licenses on the loose

The specification for the next generation of LTO tape technology is available now, but the format will not include native WORM support as expected

Contrary to expectations, the next-generation tape format from the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Program will not offer native WORM support. Instead, WORM will be provided as an optional feature for Ultrium format Generation 3 (LTO-3), according to spokespeople from the program.

"There's been a lot of hype around WORM (write once, read many) … We don't want false starts, we want to make sure of demand and that it's implemented properly," said Brad Renfree, director of strategic customer management at Certance Inc. Hewlett Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Certance are the three technology providers in the LTO Program.

Renfree noted that WORM tape makes a lot of sense for data that has to be stored for long periods of time as it offers the lowest cost of ownership. "To put it on spinning WORM disk would be very costly," he said.

A spokeswoman for Certance said it expects to ship LTO-3 products as early as September. HP and IBM products are likely to come later in the fall or early 2005. Whether or not the WORM option will be available when these products ship is unclear at this stage.

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The LTO-3 format doubles storage capacity over Generation 2, increasing to 400 GB native capacity (800 GB assuming a 2:1 compression). While transfer rates improve to 40-80 MBps (80-160 MBps, assuming the same compression rate). LTO-3 drives are backward-compatible for read-and-write capability with Generation 2 cartridges and backward-read capable with Generation 1 cartridges. The media is expected to be a little over the price of Generation 2, which currently sells for about 50 cents per GB.

Based on a recent Gartner Dataquest report: Tape Drive Market Shares 2003, LTO Ultrium tape drive shipments held a greater than 2:1 ship-share lead over the SuperDLT format in 2003. More than 260,000 LTO Ultrium drives shipped in 2003, a 50% increase in units shipped over 2002. Approximately 123,500 SDLT drives shipped in 2003.

The LTO Ultrium format is based on an openly licensed specification and is designed to provide storage managers with multiple vendor options. Right now, there are over 30 licensees of the LTO specification, which program spokespeople said fosters technological innovation, competitive pricing, and multiple sources of compatible products.

The LTO Ultrium Generation 4 calls for 1.6TB compressed capacity and up to 320 MBbs compressed data transfer speeds, according to Gartner. Users seeking Ultrium format-compliant products should look for the Ultrium format-compliance verification trademarks on both tape drives and data cartridges.

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